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Derek Taylor: Still plenty to look forward to this basketball season

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The 2012-13 high school basketball season enters its second half for most teams this week.

For many, including myself, the cobwebs left from football season are still being cleared. Bob Huggins wasn't entirely wrong recently, when he bemoaned the state's difficulty in simultaneously paying attention to football and basketball.

It's especially hard to make that transition at the high school level, when so many student-athletes participate in both sports.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

The Buddha said that. Maybe it was Ferris Bueller.

Either way, it is in the spirit of that statement that we take stock of the sport in the state at its unofficial midpoint.

Class AAA

Top-ranked Martinsburg is 9-0 and possesses talent, depth and a chip on its shoulder after the 2012 meth motel debacle at the State Tournament. The Bulldogs, led by 6-foot-7 senior Donte' Grantham, easily dispatched of No. 3 Hedgesville (9-1) on the Eagles' home court late last week, and - here's where the boots quake, or should, at least a little - might actually be farther ahead of the Class AAA field than the Martinsburg football team was last fall before it became just the second school ever to win three consecutive big-school state titles.

The biggest challenge might very well be posed by second-ranked South Charleston (9-1), whose depth is its strongest asset. Its second-best trait is the play of point guard Rashaud Kincaid and tough sophomore A.D. Cunningham. Toughness and strong play at the point are critical to postseason success, when the grind of tournament time begins to wear on teams.

Look at the most recent state champions - Hedgesville, George Washington, Logan, Martinsburg and Beckley. All of them had the aforementioned qualities in spades.

Depth never hurts.

"We've got four of five guys that can come off the bench and we don't lose a lot," South Charleston Coach Vic Herbert said.

"(Kincaid) is the guy who does all the work as far as keeping everyone together. I'm real proud of him, and he's done that for three years now. You've got to expect that out of your point guard."

Greenbrier East (11-0), ranked fourth this week and the only team besides Martinsburg without a loss, is currently the second-highest ranked team from Region 3.

With the regional realignment that accompanied reclassification in the 2012-13 school year, Region 3 welcomed South Charleston to the fold while retaining No. 6 Princeton (9-2), George Washington (7-3), Beckley (4-4), Riverside (5-6), Capital (4-8) and Ripley (2-8).

New-to-Class AAA Shady Spring and Oak Hill are also in the mix, and the preliminary tournaments that lead to two State Tournament bids could be the most exciting of any region in the class.

A midseason projection of the Class AAA field for the 100th annual State Tournament looks like this:

First round exits - Hurricane, Huntington, Parkersburg South, Greenbrier East

Semifinals - Martinsburg over Hedgesville, South Charleston over Morgantown

Champion - Martinsburg

Class AA

The drop from Class AAA to Class AA by five schools in North Central West Virginia will have a dramatic effect on the State Tournament field. That traditional middle-class powers such as Ravenswood (2-7), Keyser (1-6) and Weir (0-10) are struggling this year will further change the complexion, as will the drop to Class A by defending state champion Tug Valley (7-1) and Magnolia (8-2).

Bluefield's 7-1 mark and a 75-56 road win last week over No. 4 Wyoming East (7-2) have earned the Beavers the No. 1 ranking in Class AA, but the team's experience - junior Anthony Eades and senior David Woodrum were keys to the Beavers' runner-up finish in 2012 - make them the favorite.

Robert C. Byrd Coach Bill Bennett has perhaps the best team of the bunch that made the drop from Class AAA, and Bennett - to his credit - is one who likes to challenge his program regularly. The Eagles (8-2) will make the trip to Beckley later this month to take part in the Big Atlantic Classic with Bluefield, Wyoming East and Westside (6-4).

The Eagles and Warriors face each other Jan. 29.

Here's how the Class AA field could look in March at the Charleston Civic Center:

First round exits - North Marion, Bridgeport, Tolsia, Poca

Semifinals - Bluefield over Fairmont Senior, Robert C. Byrd over Wyoming East

Champion - Bluefield

Class A

Charleston Catholic Coach Bill McClanahan has reason and right to be concerned about the progress - or lack thereof - of his top-ranked team through eight games. After all, in order to successfully defend their state title from 2012, the Irish have to navigate a field that also includes the Class AA champ from a year ago, Tug Valley.

The Panthers have 6-1 senior point guard Austin Brewer and 5-11 senior shooting guard Mikey Newsome, likely giving them the most dangerous backcourt in the state, and one that would challenge for that moniker among Class AA duos. Tug's only loss this season came in an 80-76 heartbreaker at Belfry, Ky. (7-4), a school that would be a mid-level Class AA school in West Virginia.

Magnolia is led by 6-6 senior center Mark Winters, who has averaged close to 30 points per game.

However, while the Blue Eagles have lopsided victories to their credit over Nitro, Logan and Dayton (Ohio) Chaminade, they also fell by 18 to Clay-Battelle when senior defensive specialist Stephen Rogalski was out of the lineup.

Here's how the Class A State Tournament should shake out:

First round exits - Moorefield, Greater Beckley Christian, St. Marys, Tucker County

Semifinals - Tug Valley over Parkersburg Catholic, Magnolia over Charleston Catholic

Champion - Tug Valley

With two months left of the season, there's plenty of time to get absorbed with basketball. Thanks to the combination of the 100th anniversary celebration planned at the Civic Center for March and the shakeup within classes thanks to the comings and goings of perennial powers, March should be worth waiting for.

Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at derek.taylor@dailymail.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT

 


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